So what is the future of mobile? Well, it's here already, isn't it? Wasn't it wap, and then MMS, and then video calling, and now maybe mobile TV? And what about LBS (that's location-based services to you and me)? Well, the future of mobile is here, isn't it? That's what we've all been hearing about for some time now, or so it seems.
Certainly, there a few things we know about mobile that are worth repeating. Handset penetration in the UK is greater than 100 per cent; that is, there are more phones than people. Last month, we collectively sent a mind-numbingly ridiculous 4.5 billion text messages, 3 launched its X-Series that enables full web-browsing via a mobile phone, and Apple made some noise about an iPhone. Oh, and Channel 4 sent more than two million Celebrity Big Brother video clips, at no charge to the user, all funded by advertising pre-rolls.
All of that aside, all I focus on when thinking about the future and mobile is this. There are loads of phones, you can do lots of things with them, and when the offering is right, lots of people do do things with them.
Take 3G, for example. Heavily promoted as the next big thing (certainly expensive enough if you bought a licence for it!) and now often much maligned. However, now all the hype has gone, and the amounts paid by the operators to the Government have been written off balance sheets, the base of users with 3G handsets has quietly been building. In the UK, there are now more than five million handsets. That's not to say we will all be making video calls any time soon. We may be, but I'm not so sure.
Rather, let's not talk about 3G at all. Just leave it in the background as an enabling technology that lets users do more things on their phones. Now that there is a genuine groundswell of handsets, we, the industry, can all get on with offering new services, so that they, the mobile user, can get on and try them. Don't talk about the technology, promote the content and see what happens.
Think SMS and ringtones: massively popular, hugely profitable, and neither one predicted by the industry. The mobile is a very personal device, it is "my" phone, don't tell me what to do with it, give me the chance to find out what it does and I, the user, will tell the industry what the next big thing is.
So what does Channel 4 think the future of mobile is? Well, we do believe the future of mobile is here. Channel 4 has been quietly, and not so quietly, investing in mobile as a key strategic platform, a platform that can be neither ignored and that will not go away. Channel 4 has created an ongoing and ever-expanding presence in mobile. We have a mobile site that offers a complete range of C4 content under a range of areas, which includes Hollyoaks, news, Big Brother, Desperate Housewives and Skins. Just like the channel's output, the offer is growing all the time.
In terms of distribution, we are very excited by our direct offering - text "mobile" to 83188. But, equally, we are excited by the reach we gain via the mobile operators, so we spend a lot of time building our relationship with them. Our Celebrity Big Brother clips were available on our site, plus those of O2, Orange, Vodafone and 3.
And for advertisers? In working with partners such as Channel 4, you can make mobile an important and relevant part of your client's advertising campaign. We can offer clips with pre-rolls, banners around editorial, links to ad-funded micro-sites and competitions. All of this is available now, benefiting the client by being part of the most talked about, ubiquitous and personal of new-media platforms.
However, the real benefit of engaging with mobile now is the opportunity to shape its future. The potential of mobile as an advertising medium is only just beginning to be understood. We all need to work together to ensure that mobile advertising is reaching the right audience and providing the right rate of return for advertisers. Operators need to understand more about who their users are and when and what content they are prepared to consume on their phones. Broadcasters such as C4 need to put quality, compelling content out there to drive demand. Agencies need to be investing in mobile campaigns to build an understanding of what formats, what campaigns and what messages work best. Ultimately, we need to work together to ensure that the owner of the phone is given an experience that includes content they want, delivered by a technology that works and with a ad-funded model that they accept.
Get it right and people will consume content and advertising on their phones. Channel 4 knows that because we have already done it.
- Riccardo Donato is the head of mobile/telephony, business development at Channel 4 New Media.